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Team and League History


August 9, 1948
The Southern Professional Basketball League announce their return for 1948, with 6 teams playing 50 games between November 1948 and February 1949.

The new local team will be called the Birmingham Steelers, and they will be joined by Jackson, Laurel, Montgomery, Nashville, and New Orleans. The Knoxville and Mobile teams were dropped from the league.

August 13, 1948
     Photograph
  Head coach Ben Chapman
   
Ben Chapman announces that he has agreed to become the head coach of the Steelers. He was the manager of Major League baseball's Philadelphia Phillies before being fired a few weeks ago.

While he is best known for his baseball career, Chapman was playing professional basketball when he was signed by the New York Yankees. The Yankees forced him to quit basketball. Later on, he played with the Birmingham Red, the city's first professional basketball team.

It would be an understatement to say that Chapman has had a tumultuous career. During his stint managing in the Class B Piedmont League in 1942-1944, he was suspended for the 1943 season for punching an umpire.

In 1945 he was traded to the Phillies and become player-manager on June 30th. He played his final game in 1946 and continued with the Phillies as a non-playing manager.

1946 was a historic year because it was the first year of the postwar baseball boom and was also the last season in which the color line was in effect. In April 1947, Brooklyn called up Jackie Robinson from the Montreal Royals and made him their regular first baseman. This made Robinson the first African-American to play in the major leagues in more than 60 years. During an early-season series in Brooklyn, the level of verbal abuse by Chapman and his players at Robinson reached such proportions that it made headlines in the New York and national press. Chapman instructed his pitchers, whenever they had a 30 count against Robinson, to bean him with the ball rather than walk him. Chapman's attempts to intimidate Robinson eventually backfired. The Dodgers rallied behind Robinson, and there was increased sympathy for Robinson in many circles. Chapman somehow survived the 1947 season, but the Phillies fell to seventh place. In July of this year, with the team still in seventh place, Chapman was fired by the Phillies.

Chapman said he would be associated with the team until spring training starts, but also admitted that he has no plans to return to baseball at this time.

In addition to his duties with the Steelers, Chapman is also managing a Birmingham bowling alley.

November 19, 1948
Chapman says he is negotiating to buy the Class B Gadsden club of the Southeastern League. If the purchase is successful, he will also manage the team.

November 24, 1948
Directors of the Southeastern League grant Chapman permission to purchase the Gadsden franchise.
 
Photograph
 
November 1948
 
1948-49
  Southern Professional Basketball League   
   Birmingham Steelers
   Laurel Oilers
   Montgomery Rebels
   Nashville Vols
   New Orleans Sports
 
November 28, 1948
"Bearcat" Ben Chapman lived up to his name in Birmingham's first game of the season. The Steelers were in Montgomery facing the Rebels when a fight broke out between him and Montgomery's head coach, Lenny Rader.

During the third period, the referee attempted to eject a player for using profanity on the court. The player refused to leave the floor and had to be restrained by teammates from attacking the referee. Both coaches approached and had words with each other. Chapman eventually put Rader in a headlock which turned into a fistfight, bringing both teams, officials, and many of the 1,000 fans in the Fort Dixie Graves Armory onto the court. After the melee was over, no damage had been done so the game continued on, with Birmingham winning easily 76-51.

December 21, 1948
Ben Chapman resigns as Birmingham's head coach, citing his newly purchased Class B Gadsden baseball club as the reason he has no time for the Steelers.

Steelers owner Jim Price will take over the role of head coach.

January 8, 1949
The Steelers hire former Birmingham Barons and current Boston Red Sox rookie Walt Dropo as an assistant coach.

Epilogue
The Southern Professional Basketball League died a quiet death due to franchises folding after the season and general lack of fan interest.
 
 
 
Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: July 26, 2018